Last updated: April 25, 2017
“Indescribably Grand:” Diaries and Letters from the 1904 World’s Fair, edited by Martha R. Clevenger. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1996.
Twenty years ago Martha Clevenger compiled a book that gave readers an opportunity to read first person accounts of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (officially called The Louisiana Purchase Exposition.) “Indescribably Grand:” Diaries and Letters from the 1904 World’s Fair remains a unique and important collection of memories and reflections on an amazing event in the history of St. Louis.
The book reprints firsthand views of the fair from four very different visitors, each of whom made multiple visits to the fair. Their diaries, memoirs and letters reveal the wealth of sensation and emotion that overwhelmed visitors once they entered the fairgrounds.
Edward Schneiderhahn records his frustration with the inadequacy of language in expressing his feelings about the fair. Edmund Philibert provides detailed descriptions of the wondrous exhibits. Florence McAllion, his sister, writes of her delight with the people of other cultures she encounters at the fair. And Sam Hyde brings the fair to life in his hand-illustrated photo memoir, “Recollections of the Fair.” Together, these descriptions of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition explain what the average visitor experienced at the fair, and why it left such a lasting impression.
Schneiderhahn expressed both awe and frustration when he tried to relate his feelings about his first views of the fair: “The view across the lagoon was simply indescribably grand. But it is impossible for language to express the actual reality. We have become so addicted to the use of superlatives in common speech, that when we are taxed for resources of speech, as in this instance, we are at a loss what to do.”
The book is illustrated with over one hundred images and presents the reader with a fascinating overall picture of the fair-visiting experience. It also shows that nostalgia for the fair began almost immediately and certainly continues today.